D-Day in the Pacific by Harold J. Goldberg - Read Online
D-Day in the Pacific
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In June 1944 the attention of the nation was riveted on events unfolding in France. But in the Pacific, the Battle of Saipan was of extreme strategic importance. This is a gripping account of one of the most dramatic engagements of World War II. The conquest of Saipan and the neighboring island of Tinian was a turning point in the war in the Pacific as it made the American victory against Japan inevitable. Until this battle, the Japanese continued to believe that success in the war remained possible. While Japan had suffered serious setbacks as early as the Battle of Midway in 1942, Saipan was part of her inner defense line, so victory was essential. The American victory at Saipan forced Japan to begin considering the reality of defeat. For the Americans, the capture of Saipan meant secure air bases for the new B-29s that were now within striking distance of all Japanese cities, including Tokyo.

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Twentieth-Century Battles

Spencer C. Tucker, Editor




The Battle of Saipan


This book is a publication of

Indiana University Press

601 North Morton Street

Bloomington, IN 47404-3797 USA


© 2007 by Harold J. Goldberg

All rights reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. The Association of American University Presses’ Resolution on Permissions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984.

Manufactured in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Goldberg, Harold J.

D-Day in the Pacific : the battle of Saipan / Harold J. Goldberg.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-253-34869-2 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Saipan, Battle of, Northern Mariana Islands, 1944. I. Title.

D767.99.S3G65 2007



1  2  3  4  5       12  11  10  09  08  07

For Nancy, Alex and Emily, and Zack and Alena


the courageous marines and soldiers whose

presence honors these pages

The Marianas are the first line of defense of the homeland.

Admiral Nagumo Chuichi

I have always considered Saipan the decisive battle of the Pacific offensive.

General Holland M. Smith (USMC)


List of Illustrations

List of Maps


Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C





Figure 1. Admiral Ernest J. King

Figure 2. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz

Figure 3. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance and Lieutenant General H. M. Smith

Figure 4. Admiral Nagumo Chuichi

Figure 5. K Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division on Saipan

Figure 6. Marines’ first assault wave hits Saipan beach on D-Day

Figure 7. Marines move to secure Saipan beaches on D-Day

Figure 8. Destruction in Charan Kanoa

Figure 9. Garapan after U.S. Navy shelling

Figure 10. Marines engage in house-to-house fighting in Garapan

Figure 11. Marines move through Garapan

Figure 12. U.S. flamethrower tank in action

Figure 13. Marines in 4th Division throwing grenades toward Japanese position

Figure 14. Marines in firefight on Saipan

Figure 15. Combat troops taking cover behind tank

Figure 16. Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Admiral Ernest J. King, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, and Major General Sanderford Jarman

Figure 17. Marines firing captured Japanese mountain gun

Figure 18. Marines moving through battle zone

Figure 19. Marines cover advance into Tanapag

Figure 20. Dead Japanese soldier near destroyed tank

Figure 21. Marines using demolition charge to eliminate Japanese defensive position

Figure 22. Marine talks with Chamorro woman

Figure 23. Japanese drawing of a soldier

Figure 24. Bidding farewell to marines killed in action


Map 1. Western Pacific with Mariana Islands inset

Map 2. Saipan

Map 3. Japanese defense sectors

Map 4. D-Day, 15 June

Map 5. Positions at close of D-Day

Map 6. Positions on 18–21 June

Map 7. Positions on 23–26 June

Map 8. Positions on 29–30 June

Map 9. Positions at time of Gyokusai, 6–7 July

Map 10. Saipan and Tinian

Abbreviations Used in Maps

Symbols within a rectangle indicate a military unit. An X within a rectangle indicates an infantry unit. A dot within a rectangle indicates artillery.

The number to the left of a rectangle indicates the unit, and the number to the right of the triangle is the parent unit to which the unit belongs.

Two vertical lines above a rectangle indicate a battalion.

Three vertical lines above a rectangle indicate a regiment.

Horizontal lines connecting two numbers indicate the boundary between two units.

Unit Division

Unit Size


Source for maps: National Archives or Marine Corps Reproduction Department.


I am grateful to the following marines of the 2nd Division: John Mitch Alcorn, John Armstrong, Dick Bailey, Ed Bale, Bill Ball, Gene Brenner, Ralph L. Browner, Arnold Cook, Watson Crumbie, Sammy Davis, Joseph De Leo, Gene Douglas, Dave Dowdakin, Ed J. Driscoll, Reginald H. Dunbar, John Einarson, Fayette Ellis, James Evans, Robert E. Everett, Arthur C. Faquin, Frank Farmer, Alvin D. Ferry, John Geary, Sal Sam Giordano, Jerry G. Goforth, Robert L. Groves, Chuck Haffner, Raymond Chick Hill, Douglas P. Hopkins, Clyde Hughes, Dale W. Husemoller, William L. Jefferies, Steve Judd, Robert A. Kane, David E. Kinder, Donald Kirkman, William Krenke, M. F. Leggett, George F. Mead, James H. Monroe, James A. Montgomery, Robert R. Montgomery, Preston Pres Newman, Harry H. Niehoff, Wayne Lamar Owen, Robert D. Parker, Dick Pete Peterson, Harry Phillips, Charles D. Porter, Albert C. Rainey, Dock Riddle, Ralph Roden, Bill Rogal, Roy William Roush, Rod Sandburg, Robert Schultz, W. M. Scott, David V. Sebern, Joseph L. Shimek, Ed Skrabacz, Dodson Smith, Ken Stinson, John Jack Stone, Ralph Stratton, Chester Szech, Bob Thatcher, George Van Houten, Jerry Wachsmuth, Larry H. Wade, Arthur Wells, Robert Winters, and Robert Zurn.

I am grateful to the following marines of the 4th Division: William B. Allen, Walter Bailey, Jerome Jerry Baron, Paul B. Beverly, Bill Bouthiette, Enzo I. Brandolini, Frank Britt, Clair C. Chaffin, E. M. Cook, Julian Cusey, Leo E. Pete Cypher, John A. Dickinson, Jim Disney, Basil Duncan, Joseph C. Epperson, Norm Gertz, Christie Goudas, Earl P. Guy, Everett Bud Hampton, Howard Haury, Richard A. Hertensteiner, Willie Higgs, Bill Holden, Orvel E. Johnson, Gerald G. Kelleher, Richard S. Kelly, Charles W. Koehl, Charles A. Kubicek, John E. Lane, Dick Lehr, Herbert Levinson, Rowland Lewis, Don MacDonald, Clint Martin, George L. Mazarakos, William W. Mac McConnell, Mike Iron Mike Mervosh, William L. More, John Murach, Robert H. Nicks, Joe E. Ojeda, Alva R. Perry, David Ragan, Wallace Ralston, Jim Reed, John R. Jack Rempke, Keith Renstrom, Byron Reppert, Joe R. Risener, R. B. Roberts, Paul S. Schwartz, Marvin C. Scott, Walter H. Shiplee, Jasper Smith, Arnold Stanek, Edgar E. Earl Steffen, William A. Stephenson, Donald Swindle, Joe Tamulis, Alan Ian Taylor, B. G. Bill Taylor, Eugene V. Taylor, John Teuchert, J. Edward Tincher, William Tosline, Victor L. Varanay, Robert Verna, Peter Vogliano, R. P. Willson, and Glen E. Young.

I am grateful to the following soldiers of the 27th Infantry Division: John F. Armstrong, Steve Behil, Frank Cimaszewski, Jack Cotton, Joseph E. Diamond, John P. Earley, Wiliam W. Ellsworth, Luther Luke Hammond, Charles Roy Hilbert, Clifford W. Howe, Daniel Koshansky, Julius F. Kovalski, Erwin W. Mark Marquardt, Joseph Meighan, Cliff Melim, John A. Munka, Liam Murphy, Eli Nicosia, Martin E. Nolan, Roy Nyquist, Emmett Scott Scotty Prothero, Harold Smith, Vince Walsh, Casimer Wilk, and J. William Winter.

Others who provided assistance include John Jack Armstrong, son of army veteran John Armstrong; Stephen Bird, son of Byron Bird, USMC; Brian Blodgett, U.S. Army warrant officer, who teaches at American Military University in Manassas Park, Virginia; Dale Cook, Fourth Marine Division Association; Major Charles Crosby, executive officer of the 2-108th Infantry Battalion; Erin E. Day, granddaughter of Robert Williams, USMC; Alan Diskin, son of army veteran Edward Diskin; Lieutenant Colonel David Evangelista, commander of the 2-108th Infantry Battalion; John Faquin, son of Arthur Faquin, USMC; Jeff Fought, nephew of Major Lester S. Fought, USMC; Ann Fuhrman, coordinator, University Archives, Oklahoma State University; Austin Geiling, Fourth Marine Division Association; Charles David Hall, son of army veteran Charles Joseph Hall; Jack Hitt; Colonel Chuck Van Horne, executive secretary for the Second Marine Division Association; G. Allen Meighen Jr., attorney at law; National Archives in College Park, Maryland; Victor Olney, New York Army National Guard; Barbara Owen, wife of Wayne Lamar Owen, USMC; Bob Doc Pecce, Fourth Marine Division Association; Pat Quinn, Stillwater News Press; Tammy Scissom in Print Services at the University of the South, who worked on maps and photos; Beret Strong, producer of Iwo Jima: Memories in Sand; Ben Swan, nephew of Lieutenant Harry Blaine; University of the South Research Grants Committee; Brigadier General David Wilkinson (Ret.), former deputy commander of the 27th Brigade; and Major Gary S. Yaple, assistant operations officer for the 27th Brigade and editor of Orion Gallivanter.

Colonel Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.), read two chapters of the manuscript dealing with the amphibious landing. I greatly appreciate his corrections and comments. He remains the leading authority on amphibious landings, and he is certainly not responsible for any errors in this book.

My friend and colleague Dan Backlund, scenic designer and professor of theatre arts at the University of the South, traveled with me to Saipan in June 2004 for the sixtieth commemoration of the battle. Using old maps and guidebooks, we searched the island for Japanese guns, caves, and other remnants of the battle. While I drove our rental car, Dan read the map and directed me onto small roads and forgotten trails. We then hiked to our final destinations, through jungle or thick underbrush or over coral fields or up hills. We successfully found every abandoned battle site we sought, and in all these endeavors Dan’s assistance and companionship were invaluable.

From the beginning of this project, Bruce M. Petty, author of Saipan: Oral Histories of the Pacific War and Voices from the Pacific War, has been generous in sharing materials and knowledge. He read the manuscript more than once and provided extremely useful comments and suggestions. I am grateful for his help and encouragement.

Professor Emeritus Spencer Tucker, holder of the John Biggs Chair of Military History at Virginia Military Institute, read the manuscript and provided detailed corrections and suggestions. I appreciate his assistance on this project as well as his many contributions to World War II studies.

Despite all of the assistance I have received, I am fully responsible for the contents of this book. I hope it will make a contribution to our understanding of World War II. I again want to thank the brave marines and soldiers for speaking with me as well as for their sacrifices in the Pacific war.



Take all the Pacific battles that had gone before, from the fall of Corregidor to Eniwetok. Take Tulagi and Guadalcanal, and Tarawa and Attu, and Los Negros and Buna and Gona. Stir them all together, and add a little European seasoning—perhaps from Sicily—and pour them out on a flat blue sea under a blue bowl of sky, and you’ll have something that looks and smells and feels and hurts like Saipan. For Saipan had everything: caves like Tulagi; mountains and ridges like the ’Canal; a reef nearly as treacherous as Betio’s; a swamp like Buna; a city to be conquered, like those on Sicily; and death-minded Japs like the defenders of Attu. A lot, for so small an island.¹

As indicated by this official history of the 2nd Marine Division, the Battle of Saipan in June 1944 included elements that made it one of the most dramatic and fascinating encounters of the war. One factor was the presence of an entrenched and dedicated enemy force, prepared to fight for victory or die in the process. The Japanese were dug into the island in numbers far greater than the Americans expected at the time of the invasion. While Japanese tenacity was not unusual in the Pacific war, the finale of the Saipan battle included mass suicides on a scale previously unknown. For Japanese soldiers and civilians, devotion to Japan’s Asiatic mission and to the emperor remained primary, and many considered it their duty to die for these causes. When faced with likely defeat or the prospect of surrender, most Japanese soldiers chose death.

An equally resolute invading force of U.S. marines and army soldiers confronted these Japanese troops, with the Americans sure of victory and willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for their own cause as well. As a result the battle was bloody from its first day to its last; even with American victory assured, the fighting ended only when one side had been totally destroyed. American plans for a three-day commitment on Saipan turned into a three-week struggle. In the light of the intensity of Japanese resistance on Saipan, the resulting carnage was predictable—on Saipan, and subsequently on Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

This book explores all of the factors that made the Battle of Saipan both strategically important at the time and ultimately fascinating for history. Chapter 1 introduces the reader to some of the most important American commanders, including General Douglas MacArthur and Admiral Ernest King, who clashed with each other over the best way to proceed with the war against Japan. While MacArthur pressed for a commitment to retake the Philippines, King favored a naval campaign across the central Pacific. In the end the Joint Chiefs compromised and allowed both drives to advance simultaneously. As a result, while MacArthur moved across New Guinea toward the Philippines, the U.S. Navy pressed forward relentlessly from island to island.

Chapter 2 looks at the history of the island of Saipan. The topography of this former Spanish, then German, and finally Japanese possession provided perfect cover for the Japanese defenders. The terrain included beaches, jungles, swamps, hills, mountains, valleys, and caves, and everywhere thick vegetation and dense growth. The variety of natural environments on the island confronted the Americans with constant yet ever-changing challenges, and at the same time provided the defenders with caves, hills, coral outcroppings, and other easily defensible locations.

Nevertheless, the reader learns why the island’s natural defenses did not help the Japanese as much as they might have. Japanese military strategy called for constant attacks against the enemy. As a result, the defenders, committed to stopping the Americans on the beach, emerged from their caves and protective strongholds to pursue an offensive battle plan that allowed the marines and soldiers to destroy the Japanese soldiers, tanks, and equipment. This strategic and tactical error by the Japanese meant that the defenders wasted one of their best resources—the terrain of the island—and Japanese commanders exposed their soldiers to overwhelming and devastating American firepower. One of these Japanese officers was Vice Admiral Nagumo Chuichi, commander of the Japanese aircraft carrier force that had attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Nagumo’s death on Saipan provided American officers an additional reason to celebrate their victory.

Chapter 3 examines the training of American military personnel in Hawaii. Both marines and soldiers worked hard for the difficult battle ahead, and they left Hawaii as well-prepared combat troops. Unfortunately, one flaw in their preparation would emerge soon after the invasion began. While in Hawaii, the marines and army did not train together and did not harmonize their battle plans. During the ensuing battle it became clear that marines and soldiers, employing different battle tactics, had not carefully coordinated their views of how the battle might proceed. It was evident that the marines and the army approached the coming events from different perspectives, and this discrepancy led to an eventual clash between the service commanders during the battle.

Chapter 4 describes the morning of 15 June, D-Day for the Americans. The marines of the 2nd and 4th Divisions awoke early, were served an elaborate breakfast, collected their equipment, and said their prayers. Many knew that they or their closest friends would become casualties of the invasion. An amphibious landing is always dangerous and difficult, and the Japanese had all their guns trained on the landing beaches. Nevertheless, the marines moved on schedule toward their landing vehicles—amphibious tractors, or amtracs—for the run to the beach. For the admirals and generals the invasion was a total success, as twenty thousand Americans were ashore by the end of the first day. For the marines caught in Japanese cross fire, success was tempered by sadness that had no time to be expressed over lost buddies.

Chapter 5 focuses on the landing of the 2nd Marine Division on beaches designated Red and Green. As amtracs crossed the reef for their final approach, intense Japanese fire drove several companies away from their designated landing zones. The result was unplanned crowding in one area, providing a target for Japanese artillery and mortars. The marines took their casualties, held their ground, and pressed forward. That first night, the Japanese, intent on driving the marines off the beach and back into the ocean, attacked in force with infantry and tanks. The marines withstood the attack and destroyed most of the Japanese tanks used in the offensive. The 2nd Division accomplished its goal of holding the west coast of the island in order to allow the 4th Division to land just to its south and then swing around them, like a gate on a hinge, first toward the east coast of Saipan and then northward.

The landing of the 4th Division on Blue and Yellow beaches, explored in chapter 6, did not include the crowding and difficulties that the 2nd Division had encountered. Nevertheless, the Japanese defenders also had those beaches well in sight, and the marines suffered heavy casualties during the landing. These marines had two immediate objectives: seizing control of the airport and then crossing to the east coast, in effect cutting off the bottom third of the island and isolating the Japanese defenders at the southern tip. Within a couple of days the first task had been turned over to the army, and the second objective, traversing the island, was achieved.

With twenty thousand Americans on Saipan by the end of the first night, the Japanese position had become desperate. Tokyo had been planning for such an eventuality and was ready to commit a major portion of its navy to this battle; in fact, the Japanese had been anticipating another major sea confrontation with the Americans ever since the Battle of Midway in June 1942. With a large part of the American fleet anchored near the Marianas, the Japanese military saw an opportunity for a decisive battle that would turn the war’s momentum in their favor. The Japanese plan, called Operation A-Go, had been designed for just this moment, and a huge naval force moved out from the Philippines in the direction of Saipan. Chapter 7 analyzes the disastrous result for Japan as the Imperial Navy lost more than four hundred airplanes. The overwhelming American victory, dubbed the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot, left Japan without the pilots and planes necessary for success in the war.

Chapters 8 and 9 examine the advances by the 2nd and 4th Divisions, respectively, during the succeeding two weeks. While some units of the 2nd Division moved up the west coast in the direction of the capital city of Garapan, other assault battalions were assigned the crucial task of taking the highest peaks on the island, Mt. Tapotchau and Mt. Tipo Pale. While in control of those mountaintops, the Japanese had been able to target the marines on the beaches and other areas of the island. The marines had to take those summits, and they did so only after brutal and bloody campaigns. When the Americans had achieved their objectives, the Japanese lost the advantage provided by control of the strategic highlands and were pushed toward the island’s northern tip. While elements of the 2nd Division completed their mission, the 4th Division moved north along the east coast of the island. This phase of the battle also proved to be long and difficult, whether it involved crossing sugarcane fields that gave the Japanese a clear line of sight or cleaning out caves and hills that provided the defenders with good protection and shelter.

Chapter 10 departs briefly from the narrative to look at the life of a marine involved in this battle. Marines operated in a world of brutality, in which, in addition to normal combat, they attempted to navigate through Japanese traps, tricks, and ambushes. Day after day they fought in the same clothes, ate the same food, fought off the ubiquitous flies, and hoped for a few hours of sleep. The focus was on survival.

Marines were not the only American combat personnel in this battle. The army played a large role in the fight for Saipan and in the ultimate victory, and chapters 11 and 12 look at its role on the southern end and in the center of the island. In the south, elements of the 27th Infantry Division held the airfield and cut off the remaining Japanese defenders in the rocky, coral-laden fields of Nafutan Point. At the same time, the main army force moved north between the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions. The soldiers encountered major Japanese defensive positions as they dealt with some of the most difficult terrain on Saipan. The army made slow progress, and as a result an impatient General Holland Smith, in command of all American land forces, blamed and removed General Ralph Smith, the army commander.

On Saipan the desperate Japanese soldiers were determined to kill as many Americans as possible before their inevitable defeat. During the night of July 6–7, as chapter 13 describes, several thousand Japanese moved against the American lines and nearly destroyed two army battalions. Despite heroic efforts by their officers and enlisted men, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 105th Regiment were decimated. Elements of Headquarters Company of the 105th as well as the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, also fought valiantly to stop the Japanese advance. In the end the Japanese lost thousands of troops while American sacrifices led to the awarding of well-deserved medals of honor to a few fallen soldiers and marines.

Chapter 14 describes what should have been a routine mopping up, but nothing about the Battle of Saipan was routine. Instead, Japanese soldiers performed their final act of resistance. With the battle over and American victory assured, hundreds of Japanese soldiers threw themselves, and in some cases their wives and children, off the appropriately nicknamed Suicide Cliff or Banzai Cliff. These gruesome suicides provided a horrific end to a fierce struggle in which neither side recoiled from the slaughter of close battle. For many years thereafter, this grisly scene on the northern end of the island haunted the marines, soldiers, and sailors who had witnessed it.

Chapter 15 and the Conclusion look briefly at the consequences of the Battle of Saipan—the resignation of Premier Tōjō Hideki, the American invasion of Tinian, and the larger implications of the American conquest of the Marianas. Clearly, June 1944 was the decisive month of the war.

Appendix A revisits in greater detail the dispute between the marine and army generals. While no one questioned Holland Smith’s authority over Ralph Smith in the chain of command, army officers resented the way in which Holland Smith handled the situation. When certain partisan newspapers in the United States picked up the story for their own political purposes, the controversy exploded and threatened to undermine interservice cooperation in the midst of the war. While Ralph Smith lost command of the 27th Division, Holland Smith, after Saipan, was not allowed to lead army troops into battle again.

Appendix B continues the story beyond Saipan, examining the lives and thoughts of some of the marines and soldiers who fought in that battle. All participants were affected by the memory of a struggle that was both brutal and bloody, and some carried physical or psychological scars after the war. Nevertheless, most adjusted well to civilian life.

Despite all of the dramatic elements involved in the Battle of Saipan, most Americans remain unfamiliar with it. This crucial and bloody battle in the war against Japan has been largely forgotten, eclipsed by better-known events in Europe and by other struggles in the Pacific. Guadalcanal achieved fame as the first major amphibious assault by the United States against Japanese forces. Tarawa, at the end of 1943, became notorious for its high casualty count in only three days. The struggle for the Philippines in the fall of 1944 featured the gigantic personality of General MacArthur, and in 1945 Iwo Jima and Okinawa received vast coverage and recognition as American forces moved inexorably toward the Japanese home islands.

Sandwiched between these battles, the Battle of Saipan took place in the shadow of the landing in Normandy in June 1944. While the U.S. Navy crossed the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Saipan—in many ways a more difficult journey than its English Channel counterpart—the American public watched the situation in France more closely. Just as the European war demanded the preponderance of American resources during World War II, so too the fighting against Germany received the greatest press attention. Throughout June 1944 newspapers in the United States closely followed American progress in France, with Saipan appearing as a secondary feature. It is ironic that while events in the Pacific brought the United States into the conflict, the resources of the U.S. government and the focus of the American people remained centered on Europe throughout the war.

Map 1. Western Pacific with Mariana Islands inset



By 1943 the United States knew that the road to Berlin ran through France. Although the exact timing of the Normandy invasion would not be set until late that year at the Teheran Conference, there was no doubt that an invasion of France was a necessary component of eventual victory in Europe. Such certainty was not at all the case for the war in the Pacific. In fact, American military strategists had not decided which route would lead to Tokyo. Different services proposed alternative invasion plans: the army favored a land route across New Guinea aimed at the Philippines, while the navy supported a water route across the central Pacific. The rivalry between the services was intense.

Already subjugated to a policy of Europe first and the commitment to a cross-channel landing in France as a priority, American forces in the Pacific had to battle for their fair share of men and materiel. In general, the European theater received about 85 percent of the American war allocation, leaving the remainder for the war in the Pacific. This allotment of resources reflected the American view that Germany’s defeat would inevitably result in the defeat of Japan, while Japan’s surrender would not necessarily bring about the end of the war with Germany. At the same time, the United States and Britain had to placate Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in order to keep the USSR in the war, and that also mandated the commitment of more resources to Europe. Basically, the United States and Britain agreed that Germany was the more dangerous of the two enemies and that the Pacific war effort would receive resources as quickly as practicable. Ultimately, given the productive power of the United States, American forces in the Pacific were able to obtain materiel sooner than originally anticipated. Nevertheless, given the unequal division of resources, American accomplishments in the war against Japan should be viewed as remarkable and ranked with the world’s greatest military accomplishments.

Forced to divide the 15 percent dedicated to the Pacific, the army and the navy jockeyed for position and prominence throughout the Pacific theaters. This interservice strife erupted in planning meetings as the two branches argued over future targets. Personal rivalries and ego clashes exacerbated these conflicts, with General Douglas MacArthur confronting Admiral Ernest King in a struggle for supplies and ascendancy. The perpetually enraged King was a good match for the imperious MacArthur.

MacArthur was one of the most famous American commanders of the period, and despite his lackluster performance in the Philippines early in the war he retained his position and reputation. His goal subsequently was to return to the Philippines, an obsession that was based on both strategic and personal reasons. In staff meetings in 1943 he argued that resources should be funneled to his command for use in New Guinea, the first step in the drive back to Manila. In this regard, MacArthur lobbied the American Joint Chiefs for additional military equipment for his personal road to Tokyo—from New Guinea through the Philippines and then on to Japan itself. MacArthur was a brave and perhaps even brilliant soldier, but he also swaggered with an arrogance and sense of self-importance that often annoyed his colleagues and overshadowed his talents.¹

Despite his constant attempts to seek maximum support for his own operations at the expense of others, MacArthur did not always get his way in staff and planning meetings. He met his match in Admiral Ernest J. King, chief of naval operations during the war. In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor the U.S. Navy was reorganized, with King appointed commander in chief, U.S. Fleet (CINCUS, soon changed to COMINCH; King did not like the implication of the acronym CINCUS, which could be pronounced sink us). He was also a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

E. B. Potter, biographer of Admiral Chester Nimitz, described King as imperious, often caustic . . . hard-nosed . . . rough, tough, and Time magazine reporter Robert Sherrod repeated the legend that King shaved with a blowtorch. At the same time, General Holland Smith praised King as a brilliant man . . . dynamic, energetic.² He was impatient and often angry with those who did not perform up to his standards, but he was straightforward and would tell a colleague to his face what he thought. Most importantly, if King believed he was right on an important point, he was willing to defend his position even against solid opposition. He held his ground against MacArthur.

Figure 1. Admiral Ernest J. King, commander in chief, U.S. Fleet, chief of naval operations during World War II; photo from 1945; U.S. Naval Historical Center photo.

At the Casablanca Conference in Morocco in January 1943, King argued in general for greater resources for the Pacific war and specifically in favor of a campaign in the central Pacific, with the Mariana Islands as the eventual target. At that meeting he asked the Combined Chiefs of Staff (American and British Joint Chiefs together) to establish a formula for dividing materiel between Europe and the Pacific. King considered the 15 percent of Allied resources devoted to the war against Japan insufficient to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing and consolidating their positions. He claimed that allowing this trend to continue would give Japan the time to strengthen its defenses and would only make the eventual assault against Japanese targets more difficult as the war progressed. In subsequent discussions with the Combined Chiefs, King reiterated his call for moving toward the Marianas and aiding China in its struggle against Japan. In contrast, MacArthur’s aides (the general did not attend the conference) insisted that all resources in the Pacific should be concentrated in the army’s drive through New Guinea toward the Philippines. King clearly did not support MacArthur’s demands; he argued that an advance across the Dutch East Indies aimed at the Philippines would be too slow and difficult.³

King’s opposition to a push toward the Philippines put the admiral in direct opposition with MacArthur and illustrated the interservice rivalries at work at the highest levels in the U.S. military. In the end, the Casablanca Conference’s final report left all attack routes open as possible options. The Allies reiterated their Europe first strategy and committed themselves to an invasion of Sicily and Italy. As far as the Pacific was concerned, the communiqué contemplated movement across New Guinea toward the Philippines as well as naval action in the central Pacific in the direction of the Marianas. Neither King nor MacArthur had prevailed on this issue, but each had received some of what he wanted. Indeed, neither King nor MacArthur would ever be totally successful in this struggle.

In May 1943, in order to elaborate and give specificity to some of the discussions held at Casablanca, British prime minister Winston Churchill traveled to Washington, D.C., for the